WikiLeaks and the Anarchistic Roots of Global Uprising

There has been increasing interest in anarchism, with people around the globe writing and talking about it. A whole new generation is beginning to discover anarchists from the past like Emma Goldman and Alexeyevich Kropotkin and a new documentary is in the works. The word anarchy is swimming through twitter feeds and Facebook shares, coursing through avenues of the public mind. Ideas of mutual aid and voluntary association are becoming more and more relevant as the world stands in dire need of solutions to the current ballooning crisis of economic and political corruption.

Interestingly, the word is bandied about by governments with a very different meaning. On one side, the security apparatus of the US has generated a demonized version of ‘anarchist’ to promote fear within the general public by equating it with chaos and violence. ‘Black Bloc’, ‘terrorist’ and other loaded terms are associated with anarchism to engender fear and justify repression. Recently, the FBI raided Northwest activists and search warrants were used to find ‘anti-government or anarchist’ literature. Three young people were subpenaed and jailed for refusing to answer questions at a grand jury.

On the other side, the term anarchy is used to represent unmediated people power; non-violent, horizontally based social structures and direct action to awaken others to the working of the dominant system. It has come to mean defiant decentralization, where instead of confronting state power with a reaction to control, people are simply beginning to divest from the hierarchical oppressive systems and working together to build alternatives.

From the Arab Spring to Occupy, a new form of organizing is emerging. The recent uprisings around the world are marking a new era of social change. This trend stands out from movements of the past, as global solidarity and rapid mobilization through social networking reflects the inherently decentralized and stateless habitat of the Internet. Governments such as China and increasing surveillance and censorship in the Western world have tried to control the discourse. But, as long as the neutrality of the Internet is maintained, this explosion of online sharing of information knows no borders and as people rapidly adapt to free sharing of information, it is proving very difficult for governments and corporations to control.

Decentralized peer-to-peer organizing rejects centralized control maintained through the now decadent structures of representative democracy. Anthropologist David Graeber pointed to the anarchistic roots of Occupy, particularly its commitment to the leaderless, consensus-based decision-making practiced in the General Assembly of Occupy. For the last two years, the online network Anonymous also gained substantial media attention and modeled effective direct action with a leaderless culture and operations organized by spontaneous horizontal affinity groups.

It is noteworthy that all this has ushered in a new trend of activism never seen before. The global solidarity protests like the one against the Iraq War and the earlier resistance against the WTO and IMF were largely ignored by mainstream media and didn’t manage to sustain the connection or energy needed to actually change the system. In fact, after millions of people took to the streets, the wars went forward without a hiccup. Nothing really changed as a result of one time protests.

Occupy and the current uprisings are not like those conventional short-term actions. Encampment was a brilliant idea, as tents were used to root ideas of change into the system. Despite the eviction of Occupy and it appearing to lose its initial vitality, their tenacity revealed the effectiveness of their methods. Brutal police attacks on occupiers and Washington’s reaction by passing laws such as the NDAA are signs that the government is now becoming very afraid of the populace. What made this shift possible and brought the movement to mount a meaningfully challenge to the existing economic structure was the wholesale rejection of systems based on centralized entrenched authority.

We live in a globalized society where ‘consent of the governed’ is now manufactured through propaganda or denied by military force of authoritarian regimes. This use of coercive force has been largely hidden from a vast majority of people around the world. It is within this climate of public apathy and ignorance that WikiLeaks rose to prominence. At a rally for Julian Assange in Melbourne, Dan Mathews, one of the founding members of WikiLeaks remarked:

“The people of this world are treated like mushrooms: Kept in the dark, and fed shit… WikiLeaks is an anti-mushroom organization and that we imagined WikiLeaks would be a force for the empowerment of the people of the world to use facts, to use understanding, to use science to build a better world”.

In the article Building on WikiLeaks, Phillip Dorling brought out a little known fact; namely the key role that WikiLeaks supporters played in igniting the Occupy movement. He claims this was partly behind what became one of the largest social movements in the US. OWS did not only start from the Canadian Adbusters magazine or the online collective Anonymous, though he acknowledged the importance of their actions. He traced it even further back to 2010, when civil arousal emerged around the time of the Collateral Murder video release.

Despite the mainstream media’s disinformation against the organization, no one can deny how a new vocabulary of transparency and government secrecy has entered into everyday discourse. Along with it came the notion of ‘illegitimate governance’. The gestation of this concept is found in Assange’s early philosophy. In his early writing, Conspiracy as Governance, he articulated how “….. illegitimate governance is by definition conspiratorial—the product of functionaries in ‘collaborative secrecy, working to the detriment of a population.”

At key places in history, the right term at the right time captures a rising sentiment in society and becomes a sign that guides the world in a certain direction. Illegitimate governance is one such term. It allowed people to question the given blind trust of government and authority and moreover to realize that their governments are not what they represent themselves to be.

The idea of primary western powers in the world being viewed as illegitimate at first seemed radical, but over time and with WikiLeaks continuous leaks and US government’s reactive but ineffectual response, for many people it is gradually becoming accepted as reality. Of course, leaked material was not the only thing that is causing public trust in the institutions to crumble. The slow motion implosion of the global monetary system with high employment and mortgage bubble crashes are helping fuel this public perception of illegitimacy. The perception that a government is illegitimate, when backed up with empirical, verifiable data is a critical punch to aid that process.

WikiLeaks source-driven journalism and radical transparency exposed the hidden actions of those who claim authority. This sense has even infiltrated the American population, which is generally insulated by corporate media from the wholesale fraud and other crimes of their governments. Trend Kays on Minnesota Daily spoke about how the revelations changed the American perspective of the world. Now, more American are becoming aware of the morally bankrupt reality of imperial power and the economic and social injustice happening in their name.

WikiLeaks was a trigger that opened a floodgate. What came forth was a civic outcry of resistance that has been percolating quietly underground beneath the veneer of apathetic corporatized politics. The world has seen the youth empowered by the radically decentralized medium of the Internet. In late 2010 John Perry Barlow, political activist and essayist tweeted: “The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops.”

When PayPal, Visa and MasterCard started their monopolistic financial blockade on WikiLeaks, Anonymous came forward to defend the freedom of speech that WikiLeaks stood for. An idea behind the mask formed a new kind of legion; “We are Anonymous. Expect us”. Ever since this defense of WikiLeaks, Anonymous has become a force to be reckoned with. What followed was the year of online hacktivists. Anonymous and LulzSec engaged in a non-violent cyber-action and helped explode the myth of imperial impunity.

In the Final episode of Assange’s “The World Tomorrow”, Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky, both well-known activists of the intellectual left discussed how the West completely failed to anticipate the Arab Spring. Tariq Ali spoke of Arab empowerment. Arab empowerment. “We are witnessing that democracy is becoming more and more denuded of content. It’s like an empty shell, and this is what is angering young people, who feel ‘Whatever we do, whatever we vote for, nothing changes’, hence all these protests.”

Courage is contagiously moving across the screens into the streets. The fire of self-immolation and global awakening, confirmed by US-Tunisian diplomatic cables spread like wildfire through social media and led to unprecedented uprisings in Egypt and around the world.

No one can deny the effect that WikiLeaks has had in the world. One small whistleblower website with no office or physical home became an incarnation entry point for a revolutionary challenge of imperial power. WikiLeaks showed what the power of digital horizontal mobilization can do.

In its mission statement, Wikileaks claimed that its goal is to open governments and achieve justice by means of transparency. From the outset, this phenomenon appeared to be guided by similar anarchistic principles that founded the Occupy movement, particularly in that a stateless entity with no allegiance to any country or corporate structure can reject the validity of outer authority on its face. This is found in the day-to-day operation of the organization. For example, WikiLeaks Twitter account, as of Oct 2012 has over 1,650,000 followers. That is influential without taking power from others and has come about with no corporate structure carrying it, purely through bottom up freely chosen affinity. It is a one of many coalescing points of decentralized power.

WikiLeaks is a prime example of what I term an anarchistic meritocracy. This social form stands in contrast to the corporate model of hierarchical and centralized distribution and communication. By creating and working with structures true to the inherently egalitarian platform of the Internet, anyone can help determine what individual or collective action is worthy of support. Merits are determined by peers, by each person’s input and sharing, rather than coming from above or filtered by an select group of people. The basic idea is that if something has merit, it is shared and amplified through enthusiasm and moral resonance.

The founder of the organization also held some vital anarchistic ideals. Assange’s philosophical roots in the Cypherpunk movement reveal subtle anarchistic principles. In a 2011 CBS News 60 minutes interview, Steve Kroft asked Assange if he was a subversive. Asssange said that WikiLeaks is subverting illegitimate authority and the real question should be whether the authority in question is truly legitimate.

In a 2012 Rolling Stone interview, he expanded on this view of authority, noting that he is not against authority in itself: “Legitimate authority is important. All human systems require authority, but authority must be granted as a result of the informed consent of the governed. Presently, the consent, if there is any, is not informed, and therefore it’s not legitimate”.

This nuanced attitude toward authority is shared by most anarchists, both past and present. Anarchism is not inherently against authority or government itself, but only authority that is illegitimate. Russian revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin, widely viewed as the father of anarchist theory said, “The liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatever, divine or human, collective or individual”. David Graeber clarified a misconception about anarchy and its resistance to acknowledging authority: “To be an anarchist is to be critical of authority and always examine it… to see if it is legitimate … you don’t worship authority as a thing in itself.”

Graeber also described how the consensus process is by default a basic rule of anarchy; “If you can’t force people to do things they don’t want to do, you’re starting with consensus one way or another.” The core idea behind this is that no one can govern others without the consent of the governed. This was also one of the formative passions at the heart of American Constitution.

Anarchism’s honoring of self-governance and the demand for consent of the governed was also acknowledged by Julian Assange. Citing Madison’s view on government Assange said: “… people determined to be in a democracy, to be their own government must have the power that knowledge will bring – because knowledge will always rule ignorance. You can either be informed and your own rulers, or you can be ignorant and have someone else who is not ignorant, rule over you”.

For Assange, the power of knowledge meant that public access to information is crucial for self-governance. The act of leaking and sharing vital information is a way to facilitate this process. Through exposing the secrecy of government and corporations, WikiLeaks reveals the true motivations of those in power who influence the will of the people. When this vital information is made available, the public can make conscious and intelligent decisions to give consent to government authority or not. Assange also said, “Leaking is inherently an anti-authoritarian act. It is inherently an anarchist act”. The act of leaking is an attempt to free the individual will enslaved to a system that exists without the consent of the governed.

In Wired Magazine’s Lamo chat logs, alleged whistleblower Manning characterized the possible release of the US diplomatic cables, saying:

“Hilary Clinton, and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and finds an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format to the public… it’s open diplomacy… world-wide anarchy in CSV format… its Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth… its beautiful, and horrifying…”

He might have seen what is to come. He continued: “and… its important that it gets out… i feel, for some bizarre reason it might actually change something… and god knows what happens now hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms … if not… than we’re doomed as a species”

Humanity is facing an unprecedented catastrophic crisis. With financial collapse, sub-prime mortgage and other monetary crimes, the political and economic worlds are showing signs of deep systemic failure. The assumed solid foundations of trusted institutions are slowly crumbling. In the vacuum after the fall of deeply diseased institutions, chaos, riots and violence might follow.

Anarchy is often thought of as chaos and this chaos is associated with destruction and as being antithetical to order. Yet as the Chinese proverb says, crisis is opportunity, so here is other side of chaos: its connection to creative potential.

A crisis of legitimacy leads to a new beginning and this is what we are seeing around the world with the Occupy movement and its progeny. By means of transparency, WikiLeaks made a crack in the veneer and revealed the current illegitimate state of many governments. It opened a way to imagine a way of governing ourselves.

As many leaders and institutions no longer trustworthy, are we now moving into a leaderless transition? What will emerge from the ashes after the collapse of plunder capitalism? What could occupy this newly opened possibility? Dissolving old forms does not have to be painful and horrific. It is actually a necessary process for creation. Chaos or creation? This is a choice. The global revolutionary force of anarchy is the power within each person to choose their own destiny. This power has just begun to wake up from a long slumber.

Note: A section of this paper is an expert from the article, “Insurgent Anarchism; An Idea Whose Time Has Come – Part III”.

Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is an essayist and author of WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History Is Happening (Libertarian Books, 2018). Find her on twitter @nozomimagine. Read other articles by Nozomi.